HC Deb 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc246-8
71. Mr. Mason

asked the Paymaster-General why Her Majesty's Government have decided to modify atomic power stations, primarily planned for peaceful purposes, to produce high-grade plutonium for war weapons; to what extent this will interfere with the atomic power programme; and if he will make a statement.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise.

The modifications will not in any way impair the efficiency of the stations. As the initial capital cost and any additional operating costs that may be incurred will be borne by the Government, the price of electricity will not be affected.

The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.

Mr. Mason

Is the Paymaster-General aware that, as far as I am concerned, it is a disgusting imposition on what was primarily termed a peaceful programme in nuclear energy? Of course, I am pleased to hear that it does not interfere with the atomic energy programme prepared by the Government—although I accept that with some measure of reservation? Was this really necessary, in view of the fact that we are producing, perhaps at a slow rate, plutonium from our present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—although we are producing plutonium from our present—[Interruption.]—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is still Question Time for another thirty seconds. The hon. Member ought to utilise the time by asking a question.

Mr. Mason

Particularly having regard to the fact that the Dounreay atomic breeder is coming into production very

soon, was this imposition on our peaceful atomic power programme really necessary?

Mr. Maudling

The hon. Gentleman says that it is an imposition. The only imposition on the country would have arisen if the Government had met our defence requirements for plutonium by means far more expensive than those proposed in this suggestion.